Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta assessed his side’s chances of making the Europa League final after overcoming a disastrous first half, and highlighted the vital contribution of one player who made a telling contribution.
Arsenal were defeated in Spain, but notched a crucial away goal in their Europa League semi-final first leg versus Villarreal. The hosts dominated early on, racing into a two-goal lead inside half an hour.
Dani Ceballos’ dismissal did little to boost the Gunners’ chances of a revival, but Nicolas Pepe retained his composure to net from the spot after quick feet from Bukayo Saka drew a foul inside the area.
The 2-1 scoreline leaves the tie delicately poised going into the second leg at the Emirates next week.
Speaking to BT Sport after the match, Arteta said: “We didn’t want to come here and lose but after the way the game developed, you have to take the result. If you have to lose it is probably the best result we could have.
“Two different halves. We started to be us, in the first half there were so many moments we weren’t.
“We started to chase and were not precise with the ball, didn’t have enough control. We didn’t have enough threat or desire to attack the box, in the second half it was completely different.
“We are very used to that (Bukayo Saka playing well) this season, but it tells us we need to do much more as we cannot always rely on him. Bernd Leno was very good, at 2-0, the chance with Gerard Moreno, he saved us.
“We had a big chance with Auba to draw the game. I am confident we have a chance to win.”
Saka chastises dire Arsenal first half
Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka also spoke to the press, telling BT Sport: “There are a lot of positives in the second half, it’s a semi-final and to start the game like that… we didn’t create anything, were passive, lost every duel.
“I’m happy in the second half we picked ourselves and have given us a chance at the Emirates.
“We showed we are better than them, even with 10 men, so it is up to us. When we play properly we can beat anyone.”